"They made a vow to go to Jerusalem to serve as poor priests in the Holy Land, or if that was not possible, to go to the pope, because, as the Vicar of Christ, he would know best where they should serve," Bellafiore recalls.

Very "humbling"

As it was, the group made their way to Italy, and since chances of going to the Holy Land had dimmed, placed themselves at the disposal of the pope. The following year, 1540, Pope Paul III formally approved their new Society of Jesus, a religious order that would soon be at the vanguard of the Catholic Church's own renewal efforts to counter the effects of the Protestant Reformation.

The pope's "shock troops," as the Jesuits would sometimes be called, would dedicate themselves to spreading the Spiritual Exercises and to bringing the teachings of Christianity to schools, colleges, and universities around the world.

Bellafiore, whose mother, Nina, still lives in Cranston, and who has 16 months to go before ordination, said he found it very "humbling" to have had the opportunity to play Ignatius and to bring his life to people all over. Last year, he had asked TV producer Richard Leach, the original producer of the Barney series, for help in producing the video. Leach, who also produced a three-part series on the Vatican that aired on PBS last fall, offered his enthusiastic support and donated the use of his production crew. The resulting video is being distributed by Loyola Press and should be available at religious bookstores starting this month, at $21.95.

The Jesuit scholastic says that one of his biggest hopes is that, through the play and video, people would come to know Ignatius's qualities as a person, and "how grace transformed him from someone who was strongly centered on his own will, to someone working to do the will of God."

Even now, he says, he feels moved by Ignatius's apostolic zeal and his "cosmic vision" of what it means to be a Christian and an evangelist.

"The more I learn about him, the more the mystery of his life opens up to me, he says."